Travel insurance: If your flight doesn't take off, what are your rights?
Q Am I covered?
One in five British travellers leave home without insurance, according to ABTA, the travel association. Most want to cut cost corners, but is the saving worth the risk?
A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) simply entitles you to free or reduced cost medical treatment in state hospitals in the EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Basically, what the locals pay, you pay, so that makes it free across much of the region. But this is no substitute for travel insurance. The EHIC doesn't cover repatriation, accommodation costs or anything outside its medical remit, so that means lost baggage, flight cancellation or delays.
Q What should I be covered for?
Any insurance worth its outlay should cover medical costs of up to Ј1 million for European trips or Ј2 million worldwide, including repatriation. Cancellation cover should match your holiday cost and baggage cover likewise. In case you are sued for causing injury or damage while you are away, make sure your insurance includes personal liability cover of £1 million.
Price comparison websites offer policies up to 75% cheaper than buying direct with an insurer. Try www.moneysupermarket.com, www.confused.com and www.squaremouth.co.uk. It's a common misconception that the higher the cost of the cover, the bigger the payout.
Most insurers only respect cancellation due to unforeseen circumstances, like a death in the family. Travellers who have abandoned their holidays due to airline strikes, terrorist attacks or no-fly zones (like the one caused by the Icelandic ash cloud last April) have found many insurers didn't pay up, citing 'force majeure', a clause that invalidates cover for events caused by an act of God.
Q What do I need to know?
An annual, multi-trip policy is usually a money-saver even for infrequent travellers. Family policies can work out better value than individual cover as online insurers sometimes offer related deals. Read the small print, as you may need to extend your cover for certain sporting activities. Skiing is usually included, but you still need to state up front that you intend to head downhill at speed as part of your holiday plans.
You must tell an insurer about any pre-existing medical condition, otherwise your cover could end up invalid and this includes having to abandon your holiday as a result of a pre-existing medical condition of a family member NOT travelling with you. Travellers over 65 will find that costs shoot up, as insurers calculate their fees on how many more claims are made within this age group. Travellers over 80 are looking at the highest charges and should consider single trip cover. Age UK (www.ageuk.org.uk) and Saga (www.saga.co.uk) have policies for the more mature globetrotter.
Q What about credit cards?
Some cards and bank accounts come with travel insurance, notably those that offer extra 'benefits' for an annual fee. However, they rarely offer the same value as dedicated travel insurance and the cover is rarely as comprehensive. In some cases, they may offer free travel insurance for you AND your family, if you are prepared to shop around.
© National Geographic Traveller UK Jan Feb 2011
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